Marketing & Communications: Jed Fraser Joins SB Software

You start with a new client in chilly Sheffield on a contract basis, and a year later you find yourself in their team Hawaii shirt, enjoying the autumn sun in Portugal - in-between many intense meetings with their customers and other key players in the UK vending sector. It’s not the normal way things go. And yes, the recent AVS conference in Vilamoura Portugal was great fun (as well as extremely useful - the right mixture).

Left to right: Jed, Simon and Robin (Communications, MD and Business Development) Representing SBS at AVS Portugal, 2016.

Left to right: Jed, Simon and Robin (Communications, MD and Business Development) Representing SBS at AVS Portugal, 2016.

Twelve months ago, when I started with SBS, the makers of Vendmanager, I was a consultant supporting various high tech companies. I was helping “startups to become grown-ups.” But Simon Black (MD) and SBS were unlike any of my other clients. They are not a startup. SBS has a well established track record (we’re not expecting gifts, but we do have a milestone anniversary coming next year - our tenth). They already had a great product: Vendmanager. SBS already had prestigious clients, who enjoyed fantastic customer service (I know, because I ask them direct.) And their product was already technically way ahead of the competition, offering far better features, functionality, and reporting (we run comparative tests like the Pepsi/Coke taste competition).

So what was the key challenge facing this company with so much going for it already?

Simple, maybe. Straightforward, even. But still far from easy.

There were so many good things - and we wanted to keep them, reinforce and amplify them, as SBS grew into a bigger company. But for years, the primary marketing and communication strategy was almost akin to stealth or rumour - we were one of the best-kept secrets in the industry. Now we wanted further growth - because growth funds ongoing investment in development, technology and customer service.

SBS laid down a marker - a sign of intent - at the AVEX show in 2015, where our fantastic agency creative. helped SBS to look their best, making lots of new friends. Now we wanted to carry that through further - delivering the promise long term on an ongoing basis.

SBS at AVEX, 2015

SBS at AVEX, 2015

Key factors to success included a handful of “NOT’s," always seasoned with “WHILE’s”:

- NOT losing the passion, commitment and sincerity that have been the hallmark of the company so far, WHILE reaching out to a broader constituency because they will also benefit from SBS’ services
- NOT sacrificing integrity, honesty and superb customer service, WHILE expanding our client base across the sector in the UK, with operators both large and regional
- NOT forgetting that being the “best” remains our goal as ever, WHILE remembering that being the best means different things to different people at different times depending on their priorities and resources - and that means listening harder.

To help us listen (and respond) better, we now have Robin Turver (in the Hawaii shirt on the right) in charge of business development. With his insights from a long and successful career in vending, and many contacts across that community, Robin has made a transformational impact to SBS in a short time. He’s also keeping us very busy already. We like that, and we are looking forward to following up the doors that he has been opening - to deliver tangible commercial results as prospects become customers.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team is also growing at SBS - to deliver more and faster. That’s what clients deserve, whether they are advanced power-users, or new customers taking the ready-made features of Vendmanager out-of-the-box and putting them to work profitably at once, saving time and money from the get-go. We’ll update on that front in due course.

And for me personally? SBS is irresistible.

That’s why I asked Simon Black the MD if I could work with the company on a longer term basis - after a year of ongoing consultancy - maybe the longest job interview on record.

It was during a field trip to our clients Revive and Doozy.

We had enjoyed a meal in Salisbury with Tim and Dan Varney the evening before, and on site the next day I saw how client (Revive/Doozy) and supplier (Vendmanager) interacted:

- sharing their passion to be the best
- engaging challenges together
- discussing new issues frankly but always positively.

I have worked internationally in many countries (44 and counting), for clients spanning successful lone entrepreneurs to $6 billion multinationals, across diverse sectors from television to high-tech, from banking to retail to sumo wrestling (don’t ask). But I have never before seen such sincerity, integrity and honesty at play in a commercial realm.

There can be downsides of course - if you ask Simon about the benefits that data offers vending, and the opportunities that companies are currently missing, make sure you don’t have anything else urgent lined up for the next hour (or three), or be prepared to make your excuses.

You should also be prepared to adapt as needed - for the business. Because that comes first. That day, Simon said yes to working together - and promptly threw me out of the car to find my own way home from Basingstoke (220 miles, or 5 hours by train as it turned out), instead of driving us both.

I was pleased with both decisions. The train trip was unforeseen, but another client in Hemel Hempstead was calling, and that took priority. SBS does not do copy-paste. One size does not fit all. And that requires an extra dimension of commitment.

It was the right thing to do.

It was also a long train journey back - so I had plenty of time to get going on the challenges ahead.

Published 4th October 2016

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